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A Farmtastic Journey

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What's The Beef With Beef: Will Giving Up Beef Really Save The Planet?

Scientific study has shown that almost 15% of the potent green house gas methane released into the atmosphere comes from livestock production. A major portion of this methane comes from cows, causing some to say we need to give up beef to save the planet.

During our recent trip to Virginia we visited Polyface Farm, an organic operation run by the Salatin family. Joel Salatin, made famous partially by being prominently featured in Michael Pollan's 2007 book Omnivore's Dilemma, is a vocal advocate for eating meat grown sustainably. (Picture above by Sherry Williams depicts Daniel Salatin holding rich compost created with manure from livestock)

In Mother Earth News, maverick Joel Salatin rhapsodized in a type of "ag-rap": "Every bit of the alleged science linking methane and cows to global warming is predicated on annual cropping, feedlots and herbivore abuse. It all crumbles if the production model becomes like our mob-stocking-herbivorous-solar-conversion-lignified-carbon-sequestration fertilization."

Polyface Farm. Swoope, Virginia

The thought provoking article, "If we all stopped eating beef, what would happen to the land?, by Kendra Pierre-Louison asks the following question."Let’s say we went a little more drastic, and we all gave up eating beef overnight. What would that actually do to the ecology of the land, and to the rural communities built around agriculture? Would the resulting change really be a good thing?" This is an interesting question to consider as we drove to Polyface Farm from Charlottesville. It was not lost on us that we were blown away by the incredible beauty of the farmland we drove through. It was refreshing to see the lush landscape of these working farms. It felt like heaven on earth.

Polyface Farm, Swoope, Virginia

"Grass-fed farming, other than having an important social, cultural, ethical and environmental value, provides a series of particularly important ecological services in the long term: ruminant hooves open the soil so that it better absorbs rainwater (reducing the risk of landslides and ground instability); their grazing keeps grasses under control and helps keep pastures from becoming wild again (reducing the extremity of fires); and, their manure directly fertilizes the soil, assuring the continuous production of grasses."

Video with Stewart Lundy & Natalie McGill, founders Perennial Roots Farm, in Accomac, Virginia

On our recent trip to Virginia we were also lucky to visit Perennial Roots Farm in Accomac on the Eastern shore of Virginia. Like Polyface, this farm integrates livestock, in this case, pigs, sheep and chicken, with vegetable production. The waste from the animals, which are moved around the farm, like the cows and chickens at Polyface, provides an abundance of natural fertilizer. Perennial Roots is a permaculture paradise, albeit hard work for the farmers, but something they were passionate to take on.

Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia

As an Omnivore, I had no problem thinking about eating meat from the livestock at Polyface or Perennial Roots. In fact, I wished we had a cooler with us when we visited Polyface prior to heading back to New York. We would have filled it up with some grass fed meat and brought it home.

Hahn Niman, a vegetarian and author of Defending Beef, said in the article: "What troubles me is the repetition sort of ad nauseam that cattle are inherently problematic for the environment and that the best thing we can do is give up beef.” She went on to clarify: "The more time I spent on farms, the more I became convinced the real question is how livestock are produced not whether they’re produced.” Niman concludes that "telling people to simply stop eating beef is an oversimplification of the issue."

Polyface Farm, Swoope, Virginia

Soon we will be able to grow all of our meat in labs and create "meat" proteins with any taste one can imagine. This is a good thing, especially if the meat is healthy, affordable and available to the masses. But, just because we can grow meat in labs doesn't mean we can forget about the soil on earth. Biodynamic, organic farming increases soil health. Importantly, it keeps us connected with the land and reminds us how important it is to preserve and protect our natural environment.

Watch the video below with Daniel Salatin who told United States of Green about the incredible internship program at Polyface. He's an inspiring man and we are lucky to have farmers and others like him leading the way to our green future.

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2017

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